Beyond Box Scores: Humphries keeping busy while overcoming injury
By Rob Daniels
Olivia Humphries has a detailed plan for her professional future, considerable patience from her recent past and a healthy look at the present. All she needs now is a decent gym in Madrid.
Undeterred by 16 months away from competition, the UNCG volleyball player is proceeding on more tracks than a subway system at rush hour: two majors, a minor, an imminent summer of study in Spain and continued rehabilitation from a torn labrum. It’s fair to say she’s ready for anything.
“I’m not going to take anything for granted,” Humphries said between classes this week. “People complain about practice all the time, and I have done that. But you never really know what you’re missing until it is completely taken from you. If it was my grades that kept me from playing, I could control that. But I really couldn’t control getting hurt like that.”
By “that,” Humphries means chronic overuse. There was no singular moment or reckless action that caused the ailment, which was a tear of tissue behind the right shoulder. As it turned out, a stint on the sidelines was inevitable, and it would put a promising playing career on hold.
As a sophomore in 2010, Humphries emerged as one of the Spartans’ best players. The middle blocker led the team with a .293 hitting percentage and placed second in blocks and third in kills. She figured the recurring soreness was simply a necessary byproduct of a sport in which repeated and violent arm motion is required. By February 2011, it was getting worse, and an odyssey to MRI chambers and X-ray machines ultimately led to the operating table last April 1. No joke was involved, however.
Her injury is common in baseball pitchers, and in most cases, it comes with a rehabilitation timetable of six to nine months.
“I was hoping for six,” she said. “Six months rolled around and I wasn’t back to normal.”
She would redshirt the 2011 season, and she’s still not 100 percent. Her mechanics are still somewhat limited.
“I know how to hit a volleyball,” Humphries said. “I can almost draw a person hitting a volleyball with the correct form, but my body is not yet able to do the correct form that is the picture in my head.”
While out, Humphries poured her energy and enthusiasm into her multitude of studies. (Even that process was complicated; the right-handed student-athlete had little to no use of her right arm for the last full month of the spring 2011 semester.) She doubled up her majors, adding gender studies to human development, and accelerated her interest in Spanish, her minor. When her playing days are over, she intends to put everything together as a social worker concentrating on minority populations.
The interest comes from her mom, Rachel, who taught English as a second language to new citizens in and around Charlotte for several years. And it’s going to get another boost this summer, when, along with about 50 other UNCG students, Humphries travels to Madrid for an experience in education and cultural immersion.
As it turns out, the process is not unlike learning how to strike a volleyball again.
“I’ve got this block from my brain to my tongue with Spanish,” she said. “I feel I’m mentally fluent. I know I can read and write. Hopefully, this will bridge that gap.”
In her seven weeks away from campus and a specifically dictated training regimen, Humphries has one concern: maintaining the strength she has gradually rebuilt over so many game-less months.
The program that will help shape her vocation covers plenty of things: three hours of daily classroom education, travel and residency with a local family. It offers no guarantees of a suitable weight room.
Humphries will walk, take the bus, ride a bike, whatever. She just hopes to find a spot.
“Jessi Gulledge from the soccer team is also going and staying with me,” Humphries said. “She’s going to have to work out, too. She will help me stay motivated.”
Humphries has two seasons of eligibility remaining and plans on graduating in December 2013. Her competitive goals haven’t changed: She intends to remain a potent middle blocker and help the Spartans to a Southern Conference championship, and she hopes to do it with a full perspective.
“I love volleyball and this team and the opportunity I get to play every day,” Humphries said.
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